an interview with edele winnie - author of 'pry it from my cold dead hands' and winner of the 2019 windsor-essex playwriting contest
Edele Winnie is many things: enigmatic, visionary, hilarious, and utterly unique. Recently she agreed to an interview with Post Productions Managing Director Michael K. Potter and, well, here are the results . . .
POTTER: How would you summarize Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands? What's it about, what happens, and what makes it unique or interesting?
WINNIE: Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands is a wild ride through someone else’s mind. Giselle is a sweetheart, but she’s trapped in a glass cupboard of her own making. Everything has its place. Things are neatly put away. She’s even divided herself into different versions – her work persona, her subway persona, her home persona. All to protect her and help her to survive and succeed in this unfriendly world of ours. Then something happens – something funny and horrible – and all the glass shatters and Giselle must find out who she is all over again. It's a frog in a frying pan story. How much do you know about frogs? If you put one (I would never do this, I read about it) in a frying pan the frog adapts. They can hop, right, frying pan's have low sides and frogs can really jump. They could just hop out but they don't. When you turn the heat on, the frog keeps trying to adapt- altering its body temperature and respiration, because that's how it deals with things. It could hop out at any time. And then it gets too hot and the frog dies. Just like Giselle, like most of us. She would never jump out of the frying pan of her life. And then something happens that forces her to. It’s unique and interesting because, although everyone is different, no one is quite as weird as Giselle. (I don’t actually mean that of course. Giselle isn’t weird, she’s herself. I’m like Giselle in many ways. I’d prefer being called unusual to weird. Evolution makes lots of different versions of people for different reasons, or perhaps by just random shit luck. We glimpse one another on the street, passing by. You don’t know what’s in my head, my heart, my soul, my basement or my freezer. I always want people to be as interesting as I am, but I keep getting disappointed.
POTTER: What led you to write this script? Was it an idea that just popped into your head, an experience that made you reflect, something else entirely? And once you started, what was the writing process like for you?
WINNIE: It’s actually an adaptation of one of my stories. Short story writing is really my forte. I write dark speculative feminist fiction. That just means it’s about weird shit that happens to women. I spend a lot of time in Toronto and for some reason I’m a magnet for deranged people. Maybe that’s where this story came from. It’s like peeing, you know? In the morning you drink coffee, then tea, then apple sauce, then Diet Coke and when you pee what is it? Some of everything, filtered through you.
For me I write to entertain myself. I’m a tough audience. If it’s boring I have to throw it out. Also I’m addicted to truth. If it doesn’t sound true, I can’t write it. Sometimes I break keyboards by pounding on them because they won’t write the truth. Okay, so I only did that once. I know the problem is actually me, not the keyboard.
POTTER: You won the second annual Windsor-Essex Playwriting Contest. Tell me about that experience and how it affected the approach you took to developing your script.
WINNIE: I really wanted to impress the people at Post Productions. I’d seen a couple of their shows and I appreciate that they are working on darker, more hyper realistic pieces. So much of theatre and fiction is fairy stories where everyone gets a rainbow in the end. I like shows that challenge me, I like fairy stories about the police where everyone gets a rainbow in their end. I wanted to craft a show that was startling, interesting and rang completely true. It’s just a bonus that it’s funny too!
It was awesome winning the contest. They gave me a lot of feedback that I used to shape and sharpen the play. I couldn't have done it without them.
POTTER: You also, at our request, wrote a little "appetizer" play – First Cut – that audiences will enjoy before the main event. What can you tell us about that script and how it sets audiences up for Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands?
WINNIE: Oh First Cut was too much fun. I think it’s hilarious. It moves like a runaway train and there’s no way a person can guess where it’s going to stop. You just have to hold on. And then it’s done and you think was that dark, or funny, and the ending is complete but nothing that you would imagine. Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands also moves like that, but it’s deeper and more complicated. First Cut is like sampling the goat before you order the rest of it to be served. Though it’s not about goats. And I’m a vegan. A bad vegan.
Both of the protagonists – women of course – are safe in their frying pan when something very different changes everything and they have to jump on the tiger!
POTTER: Which stories and storytellers – in whatever genre, format, or medium – influence your writing? What inspired you – and continues to inspire you?
WINNIE: I like stories that make me squirm when I read them. Not squirm because it's yucky but because it's startling. I also like them to have satisfying endings. That’s really important. I grew up reading O Henry and Alfred Hitchcock collections, Shirley Jackson and some weirdo science fiction. I also read all of the James Herriot books. And Harry Potter. In Harry Potter everything seems nice but it ends up being wild and wonderful and that is cool. There are bad people hiding all around behind smiles.
I want stories that could be about me, but then really wild stuff happens and it goes to places I can’t even dream of and it’s really entertaining and I’m glad that it didn’t happen to me, but you know it could have if the right weird things had happened first.
POTTER: A lot of things appealed to the contest judges about the Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands script—it was unique, funny, endearing, somehow both dark and whimsical. But I'd say what most impressed us were the fully-realized character of Giselle, and your strong authorial voice. You don't "sound" like anyone else – and neither, as a result, does Giselle. What advice could you give to aspiring playwrights about developing their own voices and creating unique, fully-fleshed, characters?
WINNIE: I have a friend, Nandi Comer, who's a great poet (look her up!) She told me one day- better than I could put it – everyone says all her books seem to have a different voice. She said it's because they're all about different people and she tried to write in their voice. And succeeded!
When I started writing short stories they were all about a woman named Sheila. I realized I was writing about the same person, a version of me. Then I wrote about a woman with three arms who was definitely not me, who experienced a life completely different from mine and there was no turning back. If you're going to write about different people, be them. Be different people. Our worldview is so narrow and small. Step in someone else's heels. Fall down their stairs. Sleep outside in the dead leaves. Lick bugs. The world is so huge and we are tiny specks.
Stories are really just about what people do when stuff happens to them. Invent your people – pee out a person that's a collection of many things filtered through you – and then let and make things happen to them. If it doesn't seem real don't break your keyboard. The problem is you. Keep working. Time to go outside and sleep in the dead leaves. Look up. There's an awful lot of stars up there. Ignore the girl in the owl pajamas.
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